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The Media Assault on American Values: Executive Summary

Are the media influencing Americans to duck responsibility for their own decisions and behavior? By undermining core moral values, are the media leading Americans away from a mature acceptance of personal responsibility for their own lives and for their obligations to others?

According to the National Cultural Values Survey, a major study of American cultural and moral values, most Americans think so. The study, commissioned by the Culture and Media Institute, finds that large majorities of every significant demographic category of American adults believe the media are harming the nation's moral values.

The first section of this CMI Special Report, The Media Assault on American Values, discusses the survey's revelations about how the American public perceives the news and entertainment media. The survey addresses American perceptions of the influence of the media as a whole, and specifically of the news and entertainment industries.

The second section of the report analyzes the relationship between exposure to media and Americans' acceptance of responsibility for their own lives and treatment of others. The survey compares American adults according to how many hours of television they watch, on average, every evening. This report defines Americans who watch an hour or less of television each evening as 'light television viewers.' Americans who watch four or more hours of television each evening are 'heavy television viewers.'


Major findings

1. 74 percent of Americans believe the nation's moral values have declined over the past twenty years, and large majorities hold the media responsible for contributing to that decline.


Americans believe the media influence values.64 percent of Americans agree the media are an important factor in shaping moral values in this country. Only 7 percent say the media are not important in shaping moral values.
Americans believe the media are harming moral values. 68 percent of Americans say the media have a negative impact on moral values in this country. Only 9 percent say the media impact is positive.

Americans overwhelmingly blame Hollywood for harming moral values. 73 percent of Americans say the entertainment industry is having a negative impact on moral values in this country. Only 7 percent say the entertainment industry is having a positive impact.

Most Americans blame the news media as well. 54 percent of Americans believe the news media have a negative impact on moral values in this country. Only 11 percent say the news media have a positive impact.

2. The media are undermining America's sense of personal responsibility. The more a person watches television, the less likely he will be to accept responsibility for his own life and for his obligations to the people around him.

Acceptance of responsibility to provide for his own needs. 64 percent of heavy TV viewers believe the government should be responsible for providing retirement benefits to Americans, compared to only 43 percent of light TV viewers. 63 percent of heavy TV viewers prefer government health care to private health care, compared to only 43 percent of light TV viewers.

Acceptance of responsibility to support the needs of others by making charitable contributions or volunteering time. 56 percent of heavy TV viewers did not volunteer time to worthy causes last year, compared to 27 percent of light TV viewers. 24 percent of heavy TV viewers made no charitable contributions in the past year, compared to 11 percent of light TV viewers.

Acceptance of responsibility to respect the rights of others by practicing classical virtues like honesty, reliability and fairness. 31 percent of heavy TV viewers say they would cheat a restaurant by paying a bill that omitted some items. Only 19 percent of light TV viewers said they would cheat the restaurant.

Acceptance of responsibility to uphold high moral standards on social and sexual issues like divorce, sex outside of marriage, abortion and homosexuality. 52 percent of light TV viewers would limit the availability of divorce, compared to only 44 percent of heavy TV viewers. 51 percent of light TV viewers describe themselves as pro-life, compared to 37 percent of heavy TV viewers.

3. The media are undermining commitment to religion. The more a person watches television, the less likely he is to value religious principles and obedience to God. 47 percent of light TV viewers attend church or religious services at least once per week, compared to 28 percent of heavy TV viewers.

4. The media have a seductive effect. The more a person watches TV, the less likely he is to believe the media are influencing the nation's moral values. 78 percent of light TV viewers believe the media are harming American moral values, but only 58 percent of heavy TV viewers agree.


Conclusion

The widespread American belief that the news and entertainment media are damaging the nation's moral values is clearly justified by the results of the National Cultural Values Survey.

The most telling finding is that increased exposure to television correlates with a decline in acceptance of personal responsibility. According to the survey, the more hours people spend in front of the television, the less likely they are to accept personal responsibility for their own lives and for their obligations to the people around them. They are less likely to conduct themselves honestly, and they are more likely to hold permissive attitudes about moral issues like divorce, extramarital sex, homosexuality and abortion. They are less likely to honor Godly values and religion in public life.

The great majority of Americans perceive a decline in the nation's moral values. This is another way of saying Americans perceive erosion in the responsibility and integrity of their fellow citizens, sexual mores and the nation's submission before God: the very areas apparently being undermined by the media.